#Suicide in African Cultures – The Igbo People of Nigeria

The Igbo people of modern day Nigeria conceptualized the idea and act of suicide much the same way as the Luo people of modern day Kenya. The Igbo have a concept known as Nso ani – a religious offence of a kind abhorred by everyone. Nso ani is a sin so grave that it is not only abhorrent to anyone, but it is a sin against the earth itself. Suicide is one of these sins. If we can borrow Chinua Achebe’s exploration of this concept through Things Fall Apart, we learn that a person who commits suicide has committed an evil act, has accepted a bad death, and bad deaths disrupt the normal cycles of life.

As a result, there were harsh consequences for those who committed suicide. First, the very land on which they did this was considered polluted. Such a land could only be cleansed through elaborate rituals. If one hanged themselves on a tree, the tree would be cut down. If one hanged themselves inside the house, say on a rafter, the house would be burned down to prevent another person from committing suicide in the same house. If it was carried in the yam barn, the yams would be burnt down together with the barn. The bodies of those who committed suicide, just like among the Luo, did not receive a decent burial. They were buried in the evil forest. If a person hanged themselves on a farmland, a grave would be dug directly under the hanging body so that when the rope is cut the corpse would fall directly into the grave and be buried. If a person drowned themselves in a well, such a well would be condemned, declared unusable, and it would be destroyed.

In a paper by Norbert Oparaji “A Theological Evaluation of Suicide in Igbo Traditional Culture”, the author notes that the ethno-theological phenomenon of suicide in the Igbo traditional culture pertained to principles such as the character of sin, the common good, the Imago Dei, sanctity of life and atonement. Imago Dei is the theological conception of the “Image of God” and within Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC 2281) suicide is forbidden by the fifth commandment (“thou shall not kill”) and is considered “gravely contrary to the love of self”. In a sense, traditional Igbo philosophical view of suicide was to a large extent similar to the Christian view, which would be forced onto the people later by the colonialists.

According to Igbo philosophy, the life of a person is circumscribed within Uwa (the world), which is composed of the physical and spiritual, the abode of humans and spirits. The human is composed of ahu(body), mkpuruobi(heart) and nmuo(spirit), and the basic unity of these is mmadu(person). This is different from Greek philosophy, in which Plato held that the spirit of a person is assumed as a separate living entity inhabiting a body, or Aristotle, in which spirit is a form of the body. In Igbo, ahu, nmuo, and mmadu are inseperable, and is expressed as one entity, nmuo, the person.

This inseparability informs the ontological goodness of the human person which is held as immensely significant among the Igbo. Therefore, in pursuit of the ultimate good (summum bonun), the person is guided by the desire for ndu life and its preservation, and that despite the nsogu (difficulties and frustrations), this pursuit should not transgress the moral order. It is not uncommon, therefore, among the Igbo, for prominence given to concepts such as ndubisi (meaning, life is of prime value and should be preserved), ndukaku (life is greater than wealth, hence wealth must not be pursued at the expense of life), or nduamaka (life is good).

The prominence given to ontological goodness of the person in Igbo philosophy informs the harsh view of suicide. Suicide is onwu ojoo (a bad death) and dreaded or regarded as nso ani (taboo or grave sin against natural order). A “good death” will cause the deceased to reincarnate; but “bad deaths” disrupt this cycle – they are unable to join their ancestors or reincarnate.

#Suicide in African Cultures – The Luo Peoples (Kenya)

Among the Luo Peoples suicide was a taboo. People were not allowed to commit suicide. In the old days, in Luo Kitgi gi Timbegi, it was an absolute taboo to commit suicide. The Luo believed that if a person committed suicide, they had become a ghost and would punish people who spoke at their funeral. To prevent this, if a person committed suicide, say hanged themselves on a tree, they’d immediately be cut down from the noose and caned thoroughly. The Luo believed that the caning would stop the ghost of the person or evil spirits from roaming back home and prompting other people to kill themselves.

A person who committed suicide was not mourned, lest evil spirits haunt mourners. Such a person was not given the respect of being buried during the day. They were buried at night. They were not even given the dignity of being buried at home. They were buried outside the fence of the homestead, or e gunda. They were declared outcasts in the community and their stories told in hushed tones. People were warned not to name a child after such deviants. Victims of suicide were publicly shamed.

The Luo people understood suicide as self-murder. If murder is “the unlawful killing of one human by another, especially with premeditated malice”, then “self-murder” is a “crime”, which involves the unlawful killing of oneself with premeditated malice. There was absolutely no justification for suicide, hence the punishment, and the victims were treated the same way as people who committed murder in the community. Even today, it is not uncommon, for a murderer in the village to be murdered, and even if they are jailed, it is not uncommon for their homes will be destroyed and razed down, almost to erase them and their deeds from communal memory. The Luo did not take issues of self-murder kindly. You had to pay for your act, though dead, before being buried. Those who attempted suicide also received maximum flogging. This was to discourage other people from committing suicide. The punishment was to serve the purposes of deterrence.

In a sense, the Luo conceptualization of suicide in ancient times was similar to the Penal code that Kenya inherited from the British colonial system. In Kenya, today, the Penal Code Cap 63, on Offenses Connected with Murder and Suicide, particularly those sections that deal with aiding suicide (Section 225) and attempting suicide (Section 226), states that “Any person who attempts to kill himself is guilty of a misdemeanor”.

#Suicide in African Cultures – The Kalenjin (Kenya)

20 kilometers West of Eldoret, along the Sosiani River, there is a waterfall, a 70-metre cliff separating a flat land from the rocky escarpment. They call it Koromosho or Chepkit Waterfalls. Old men and women would gather here, convinced that they had become a burden to the community, that they had become too dependent, they would gather here to sing their last songs. It was a ritual, known to many as Sheu.

On these banks, the old of the old, people who felt they had outlived their expectations gathered here voluntarily, sometimes in groups, to hold hands and hurtle down the cliff to their deaths. Their bodies would then be washed by the river downstream and be eaten by wild animals. This was their way of dying in peace without putting undue demand on the community to perform funeral rites, of having complete autonomy of their own lives. This was a common practice among the people we call today as the Kalenjin.

I hear that in Kapsimotwa, located on the Nandi Escarpment in the Great Rift Valley, there is another rocky cliff where old men performed the Sheu Morobi – meaning “there we go forever” in Nandi – jumping 450-metres to their ends.

They did this after ritualistic celebration, of delicacies, honey, and milk, and ceremonies with relatives, who’d feed them with a last delicious meal. They did this to relieve their loved ones from the pain of caring for their old dying bodies. It was an honourable act for an elder to jump off Sheu Morobi.

This ritual, Sheu/ Sheu Morobi, is what we call euthanasia in modern times, practiced here tens and hundreds of years ago.

A Snake in the Gourd – #GarissaAttacks



When death is bounteous, and every flower is tattooed with the names of the dead, mourning is profound and prolonged. Sack clothes are worn and dirges clothe the air. The sheer immensity of death means it will not escape conscription into collective memory, into unwritten history books.  They become the fodder of national narratives. They become the eternal voices in oral narratives. Mother’s rocking their newborns remind them, for a thousandth time, how in the year XXXX, so and so happened and so and so was killed. And the children when they grow up, and marry, and birth – they too, when rocking their children to sleep will sing them a dirge-turned-to-lullaby about the year XXXX when so and so happened. And every day, old memories are etched on the minds of whimpering children suckling on mothers’ laps.

It is easy to talk about radicalization, while standing from a pedestal of self-righteousness, and wonder why him, why did he become that?

“He was a Kenyan Somali; a member of the Degodia Clan that was viciously attacked by the Kenyan military 31 years ago, and who have never received any justice since. He was 26 years old (I think) with a fine taste in suits. He graduated from University of Nairobi in 2013 with a Bachelors Degree in Law, scoring a coveted Second Class Honors, Upper Division. And his name was Abdirahim Mohamed Abdullahi,” Magunga says (2015).

“The City of Garissa in Kenya’s North Eastern Province (NEP) (Now Garissa County) has been on the top list of the most peaceful cities in East and Central Africa for over twenty years. It is the provincial headquarter of NEP as well as the administrative center for Garissa District. Named after a riverine local Pokomo elder or farmer called Karisa, Garissa became a recognized settlement in 1936.  Majority of the inhabitants of Garissa are ethnic Somalis.”

“For decades, Garissa had been under the radar of Kenya security and intelligence agencies primarily because the region was under martial law decreed immediately after Kenya’s proclamation of independence.”  Adan Makina says (2010).

It is easy to justify, using religion, because the argument is simple: A+B=C. Which may be true, but sometimes it is not that simple.

As we mourn with each and every family of the students massacred in Garissa, the question of why such a person can be radicalized, is as important as our exhortations of ‘no stone will be left unturned’.

In Luo, there is a proverb saying “thuol odonjo e ko”, literally translating that, “a snake has entered the gourd”. That is the situation we are in today, and Kenya is the gourd. Our own are radicalized. We know of histories of repression, disenfranchisement and the Kenyanness scale. We know how and why such histories can create people who have never nurtured any sense of belonging, who cannot be co-opted into our refrains of “justice be our shield and defender/may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty/plenty be found within our borders.”

What do you do when there is a snake in the gourd? Do you break the gourd? History can teach us something. We cannot rewrite history, but we can learn from it, even as we reflect on why anybody who is repressed or disenfranchised can be radicalized.

We can also begin looking at that other side of the coin.

My heart goes out to the innocent students caught up struggles they know little about, and the gallant officers who responded to a call of duty.

May you Rest In Peace.

This is (Not) A Short Defence of Religion

When I was about 15 years old, when herding cows in the village, I used to walk around with an old book titled “A Short Defence of Religion: Chiefly for Young People Against the Unbelievers of Our Days” by Prof. Rev. Joseph Ballerini from the Seminary of Pavia.


Got it from one of the Catholic books Dad had. It’s a very good book, but not short as the title implies, and I think the best defence of the Christian doctrine that I have ever read. Even today I still have the book. It’s a very old book, was first published in 1908.

The preface of the book begins this way:

“It is proper that Catholics should not only have a good knowledge of their religion, but also to give a correct and satisfactory answer to honest inquiries of non-Catholics. At the present day there are great discussions everywhere on matters connected with religion, and immense multitudes of people take erroneous views. Unfortunately, it often happens that Catholics are not in a position to remove their difficulties.”

The book intended to weigh the arguments of guys like Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, Spencer, Harnack, Loisy etc to show how they are totally unworthy. So at 15 I was already reading arguments and counter-arguments on existence of God, origin of man, origin and nature of human soul, which is the true religion bla bla. Some arguments are logically sound, especially in those cases where he tries to prove that there is no conflict between Catholic dogma and scientific evidence, such as in the evolutionary origins of man. Back then I could see many of the weaknesses in the Professor’s arguments, it was not until I did Biomedical Science and Technology for my Undergraduate and this made it easier for me to access and understand scientific data and findings, and also see the deliberate misinterpretations that the good theologian had engaged in. But the book is way above, in terms of quality of reason and logic, when compared to most of the books defending Christianity that you’ll find on the bookshop shelves today. It is rigorous. It has citations, and very detailed footnotes on direct quotations from books you can hardly find anywhere.


The infallibility of the Catholic Church and its dogma (or as the book says “Every dogma of the Catholic Church is infallibly true”) was also an interesting one to note. Not sure whether it holds any water today. Not with the many scandals rocking the church.

I tried to think about why an organized religious system, like the Catholic Church, would write a book to shield ‘young people against the unbelievers of our days’. Later on I got English translations for Quran and Bhagavad Gita, and downloaded Buddhist texts and books on ancient history, ancient religions and cults and so many many other things. I think nothing exposes the fact that religion is a sociocultural human construct like studying many religions and cultures.


Since 1950s science has produced so much knowledge about the nature of the physical universe that most of the arguments in this 1908 book have been rebutted in millions of discussions in blogs. The Table of Contents of the book is like a summary of the religion-science debates even today, the only difference is that science has shed off most, if not all, its philosophic abstractions and has become more empiricist, more mathematical, more observed data. The usefulness of scientific arguments, tools, and technology can be seen in every sphere of our lives. Sadly, arguments for many religious doctrines still gamble with belief and piggyback on base human instincts such as fear of death.


Like the Prof at the beginning of the 20th century, believers still talk about “supernatural facts” in the 21st century.

How times change. How times remain the same.

To paraphrase the theology Prof: “At the present day there are great discussions everywhere on matters connected with religion. Unfortunately, it often happens believers are not in a position to remove their difficulties.”

Understanding Religion, Fundamentalists/Extremists, and Violence/Terrorism

Ukranian soldier near Pervomaysk - Reuters

If your religion is a religion of peace, if your religion is a religion of love, tolerance, and understanding; then the fundamentalists in your religion should be the most peaceful, most loving, most tolerant and most understanding. Fundamentalists and extremists are people who interpret every word in their Bible, Quran, Bhavad Gita or any other sacred/holy text as literal truth and genuinely live by these dictums. A Muslim fundamentalist/extremist is an extremist in his/her devotion to the literal word of the Quran. A Christian fundamentalist/extremist is an extremist in his/her devotion to the literal word of the Bible. This goes for all the sacred texts. All these peoples are extremes in their faith, and contestations arise when these extremists (rightly) perceive that the literal understanding of these texts to be incompatible with the values, norms, and traditions of modernity in a secular world, and therefore a threat to their living according to the sacred literal truth. It is on this same plane that unbelief is not viewed as that specific person’s individual choice, but a sin. Note that ‘sin’ is a religious language and only has meanings in religious texts, proclamations, and analyses. ‘Sin’ falls in the same pile with words such as ‘salvation’, ‘redemption’  – as in, they only make theological sense. Yet a believer will be quick to judge unbelief as sin and so deserved of the various punishments that are okayed in their sacred texts, irrespective of the fact that this person does not believe in the textual validity, cultural representativeness, moral authority, or historical validity of such texts. Their faith therefore becomes their source of hatred and division, rather than their source of love and communion. It is for this reason that religious inspired hatred and violence is more pronounced in places where that religion is more concentrated. To a large extent, more Muslims will be killed by Muslim extremists/fundamentalists. More Christians will be killed by Christian extremists/fundamentalists, because it is easy to find the sinful (those who do not live by the literal teachings of sacred texts) within one’s own community. The argument that fundamentalists/extremists misinterpret the sacred texts is in most cases dishonest. One only needs to go back to the sacred texts and read. Religions have always inspired violence.

If the fundamentalists in your religion are the most hateful, violent, intolerant, ignorant, inhumane, and all sort of negative attributes, then there is a fundamental problem not only in the motive of the sacred texts but also in its inactivity to school and rein in the most honest of its adherents. In the wild, we can only differentiate soulful, tongue-imprisoning, health-boosting trees from the taste, savour, and nutrients of their fruits. The fruits of any religion are best examined by looking at the most fundamentalist of its adherents.

The problem of religion and violence is more pronounced if the religion is a way of life, if religion is culture and not just a constituent of culture but culture itself, in that it has internal dictates not only on piety, but also personal relationships, family/clan relationships, politics, law, social institutions. Terrorism, then, becomes religiously inspired political violence. All terrorist activities have a political objective. In the broadest sense, terrorism is political activity; it is a religiously inspired violence as a solution to political grievances. It is only in the modern world that religion is seen as a private activity, in the pre-modern world, religion dictated all human activities, from politics to law, from economics to state-building to warfare. Religious crusades did not advance spiritual adventures. They advanced political objectives. Sunni and Shia Muslims do not fight purely to achieve a certain level of holiness. The Catholics and Protestants did not fight to expand the highways to heaven. Catholics in France did not fight Catholics in Habsburgs to earn a sit on Jesus side on the day of judgement. Christian missionaries did not come to Africa simply to make Africans holy. They came to lay the foundation for the colonization and exploitation of Africa. Even today religion and politics remain intertwined and the goal of the complete separation of religion from the economic, political, and cultural structures must continue. Unless this happens, the tendency to fall back to religious inspired violence to solve political, economic, and social grievances – especially by people in regions where religion remains an all-encompassing way of life – will continue.

The new religious undertones and violence beneath the broad sweeps of ‘democracy’, ‘liberty’, and ‘human rights’ also need our attention. Just as it was admirable to die for God, for religion, the new God is the state/nation and it has become admirable for man to die for the state/nation – an imagined community – for which soldiers are sacredly prepared to die. Until man ceases to create gods, god-inspired violence will live with us. I’m thinking about the Global War on Terror and ‘Axis of Evil’ justifications. In the modern world, the words of British Historian Lord Anton that the emphasis on ethnicity, culture and language in the adulation of the national spirit would penalise those who did not fit the national norm. Thus, he said “according, therefore, to the degree of humanity and civilisation in that dominant body which claims all the rights of the community, the inferior races are exterminated or reduced to servitude, or put in dependence.”

We should therefore be wary when the intolerance and bigotry we used to associate with religion, remain the same foundational blocks by which we are promoting equality, democracy, human rights, and political and intellectual liberty. To promote these noble pursuits, we are becoming too comfortable with using violence as a tool. As long as United States and Europe use violence to promote these enlightenment ideals, violence will be used to oppose them. Within countries, as long as the ruling class remains intolerant, prejudiced, and violent against those perceived as ethnic and cultural minorities, these communities/groups will resort to violence against the nation-state, and fundamentalism will continue to have a cruel, violent, and invasive relationship with aggressive secularism. As long as fundamentalists (in Christian, Islam, Judaist, Hinduist etc) view secularism as an establishment designed to destroy their culture, their way of life, as long as ‘modern’ is presumed to mean ‘European’, religious inspired political violence will remain the riposte – and history shows that these fundamentalist reactions to forceful secularisation are prone to become more and more extreme over time.

Facts About Ebola Virus Disease

ebola virus disease


In Africa, as news of Ebola continue to scare, and more people succumb to infection; cultural beliefs, religious attitudes and ignorance are once again preventing many people from accessing factual scientific knowledge on what Ebola is and taking measures to prevent additional transmissions.


According to the World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola virus disease (EVD), formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans. EVD outbreaks occur primarily in remote villages in Central and West Africa, near tropical forests.

Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are considered to be the natural host of the Ebola virus.


The virus is transmitted to people from wild animals and spreads in the human population through human-to-human transmission. Ebola is introduced into the human population through close contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected animals. In Africa, infection has been documented through the handling of infected chimpanzees, gorillas, fruit bats, monkeys, forest antelope and porcupines found ill or dead or in the rainforest.

Ebola then spreads in the community through human-to-human transmission, with infection resulting from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and indirect contact with environments contaminated with such fluids. Burial ceremonies in which mourners have direct contact with the body of the deceased person can also play a role in the transmission of Ebola. Men who have recovered from the disease can still transmit the virus through their semen for up to 7 weeks after recovery from illness.


Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. No licensed specific treatment or vaccine is available for use in people or animals


EVD is a severe acute viral illness often characterized by the sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhoea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding. Laboratory findings include low white blood cell and platelet counts and elevated liver enzymes.

People are infectious as long as their blood and secretions contain the virus. Ebola virus was isolated from semen 61 days after onset of illness in a man who was infected in a laboratory.

The incubation period, that is, the time interval from infection with the virus to onset of symptoms, is 2 to 21 days.


No licensed vaccine for EVD is available. Several vaccines are being tested, but none are available for clinical use.

Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care. Patients are frequently dehydrated and require oral rehydration with solutions containing electrolytes or intravenous fluids.

No specific treatment is available. New drug therapies are being evaluated.


Avoid areas of known outbreaks

Wash hands frequently

Avoid bushmeat

Avoid contact with infected people

Follow infection-control procedures

Don’t handle the bodies of people who have died of Ebola. Only specially trained teams should bury the remains

Source of Information: World Health Organization


Can science solve all the problems in the world?

can science solve all problems_granddebate

In the 21st century, the word ‘science’ means ‘solutions’. Given that today is the World Science Day for Peace and Development, this platform offers us a chance share our ideas for a better world and reiterate, once more, that science is solutions for all the world’s material problems. Over the centuries, science has transmuted from being a sacred discipline accessible only to a select few to become a way of life. Every single day, individuals, consciously or unconsciously, rely on established scientific principles to make individual, family, community, national, and global decisions. The world would never have achieved the current state of technological advancement without scientific thought. Science is the furnace where ideas are smelt, purified, and modelled into useful tools.

This is not a vacuous praise of science. Name any major problem confronting the world today. Ignorance, disease, illiteracy, climate change and global warming … name them. All these problems will only be solved by science. If there is any problem in the world that is worth solving and which affects the entire population irrespective of race, creed, religion or gender – you can be sure that scientific solutions are what should be exploited. Ignorance far from being a question of choice is a consequence of poor dissemination of knowledge. A reconfiguration of such a system to enhance information flow is a partial solution. Diseases have been afflicting humanity since the dawn of time. Science has been the reason behind increasing life expectancy, reducing child mortality rates, reducing malaria or HIV/AIDS prevalence etc.

Let us talk about some of these solutions in depth. Let us begin with climate change and global warming. Far from the controversy about its causes – anthropogenic or otherwise, the reality of climate change is with us in Africa. Over the past few years we have lived through changes in climatic patterns and not all these changes have been pleasant. We need to generate scientific solutions that range from reducing the use of fossil fuels to adapting to changing climatic systems. You can be sure that engineers are at the forefront in developing fuel efficient transport systems as well as how we can transform our offices to conserve energy. There are currently hundreds, if not thousands, of green technologies in the market. We need to be informed and adopt these tools and practices to reduce our carbon footprint. Mother earth sobs for our attention.

Our education systems are stale and have stopped doing what they were created to do. It is not strange to converse with graduates with annoyingly little information between their ears. Students are pursuing Masters Degrees not for the content that such a course offers but for the certificate so that they are well placed for the next promotion. You have PhD students who cannot conceptualize and create solutions for their own communities. This sleepy-head attitude towards intellectual advancement is a boil that has festered for far too long. It has begun seeping into our systems and before long all educated Africans will be unable to offer any solutions to the continent. Education reforms will have to align its objectives with the demands of a re-emerging Africa.

Let us talk about diseases. Look at cancer which is currently one of the living causes of mortality today in the world. With increasing diagnosis of cancer cases, multimodal therapy remains the only reliable option in cancer treatment in addition to other treatments following surgical removal of cancerous cells. Owing to the limitations of the current cancer drugs, scientists are working on hundreds of other solutions including how biodegradable polymers can be used to enhance drug delivery. Adult stem cells have shown significant success in treating juvenile diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. Hemopoietic stem cells hold promises in the treatments of autoimmune diseases, directing cancer therapy as well as generating tolerance physiological conditions for solid organ transplants. The current advancements in proteomics and gene therapy may eventually widen the scope of the clinical application of hematopoietic adult stem cell studies.

What about stem cell research? Just a few years ago, Mr. Steve Rigazio was a normal, happy young man operating his business with the enthusiasm and ambition so common among young successful entrepreneurs. Now he forms the statistics of people diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease; a devastating disease that affects the spinal cord nerve cells, causing muscles to wither and die off quickly. Just like everybody else diagnosed with this condition, the doctors gave him 18 months of life. Two years after diagnosis Steve is still alive and his doctors are baffled. No need to mention he quit his job and even though the disease is ravaging his body, his mind is contact. His vibrancy is a stark contrast to his gradual deterioration unto death.

Just in the same neighbourhood in which Steve lives are two beautiful girls; twelve years of age struggling with juvenile diabetes since they were barely four years old. With thousands of pricks on their skins, life is completely unbearable. Miles away is Anne; a twenty three year old young woman buoyed down with Alzheimer’s. Steve, Anne, the twins and millions more are suffering from these genetic degenerative diseases have been forced to watch their approaching deaths with utter hopelessness. Yet hidden in this hopelessness is the understanding that despite the moral, ethical and political undertones, stem cell research may offer these individuals the only remaining hope for a meaningful life. It is only through an appreciation of the scientific technique that diagnosis, treatment, and management of millions of diseases has recently improved. The consequence is that currently there are millions of pharmacologic agents under development and which will offer reprieve to millions.

Because of poor investments in scientific development in Africa, we have become importers of solutions than creators of them. African systems of thought are intellectually dominated. While the importation of ideas is not wrong, our little or non-participation in the generation of global knowledge makes it very difficult to efficiently integrate new technologies in our systems. We lag behind in the adoption of scientifically proven solutions to common problems in agriculture, industry, and health.

Is there a solution? Are there ways in which Africans can increase the adoption of these techniques? Yes. There are many situations where technology has been used in disaster management and conflict resolution. Here in Kenya, Ushahidi developed disaster management Apps – a Ping app that works in both smartphones and feature phones and can be used to locate and respond to disasters. ICT adoption is changing fortunes in the continent. For example, Kenya has been touted as one of the leading countries in the world as far as the adoption of mobile commerce solutions, with a recent TNS Mobile Life survey showing that 73% of the 30 million mobile subscribers currently use their handsets to pay for products and services compared to just 15% worldwide. This is due to a large number of M-Pesa, Airtel Money, Orange Money and yuCash subscribers using their mobile phones in money transfer and banking services. These ICT developments are not only in Kenya but other countries as well, particularly South Africa and Nigeria where there are new developments and announcements happening on a daily basis.

Last month Lee Mwiti wrote an incisive article in the African Review. He asked: Is Africa’s breakneck growth all smoke and mirrors? This was in response to the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative that seems to suggest that double-digit economic growth is commonplace around the continent, with six of the ten fastest growing economies in Sub-Saharan Africa. The truth is that Africa is poised for take-off. This is not a pipe dream. I’m an African and I believe there are millions of young Africans like me who not only have great hopes for the continent but will be willing to exert themselves in realizing the African dream.

While part-dreaming, part-working towards achieving these dreams, it would be insincere to avoid touching on the role of politics development in Africa. Post-independent Africa has been a desert for traveller looking for successful political stories. The independence leaders squandered the chance to position the continent on a sustainable growth trajectory. There have been pockets of promising leadership that is rich in vision and commitment, but there are a few, if any, countries that have maintained a healthy platform for a long time. Political successions in Africa have not been savoury events. From coups, juntas, to stolen elections and broken promises for change have lived with African countries since they were hurriedly sculpted and injected with Westphalian attitudes. The political history of post-independence Africa is a weary wave with uneven troughs and crests.

One wishes that science could solve the world’s political problems; that politicians would rely on accurate analyses to make public policy decisions. But science plays second fiddle to politics because politicians are gods. The era when politicians could make personal sacrifices for the good of the society is gone; neither are they willing to defer current benefits for the longer term. Public policy is not being pursued for the long term welfare of the country. Kenyan and Nigerian Members of Parliament are examples of what happens when the pursuit of excesses and bulging bellies become a personal achievement, a national asset.

While politicians, even from the world’s greatest hegemony – the United States of America, routinely ignore scientific evidence when making policy decisions on such important issues such as healthcare, energy policy, climate change and global warming; we cannot resist the temptation to prod them. We need politicians to pass laws that increase funding to public research institutes. Whether it is HIV/AIDS, malaria, conflict resolution mechanisms, peace dialogue or democratization efforts – the lack of literacy of many politicians on these key challenges negatively influences their ability to debate intelligently and prioritize allocations of resources. Universities and other public research institutions continue to suffer from inadequate funding because they are placed at the bottom of the priority ladder.

In essence, there has never been a time in modern African history that the issue of leaders and the quality of leadership has been more important. The need for African leaders that have the competence to comprehend threats, the challenges, and opportunities of globalization, the imperatives of democratization and good governance, and the vision of a preferred future and capacity to realize it, is urgent. The African society at the present time awaits the emergence of a new generation of leaders who embody good governance as a cardinal value in every sphere of the society. Africa demands new leaders and a style of leadership that is competent, honest, visionary, and committed. Such a crop of leadership will appreciate the fact that science lies at the very core of growth and development.
In the same way, scientists also need to be flexible when conceptualizing solutions to global problems. Luckily, there is a new field of study around the block. It is called development engineering – a new interdisciplinary field of research that encompasses theoretical subjects as well as applied science. One of the objectives of this new strand of thinking is to tackle challenges that often block the delivery of more equitable development in a dynamic and interconnected world.

Most of the complex challenges currently affecting Africa could be solved if researchers develop culturally sensitive models that not only re-emphasize established scientific techniques but create powerful combinations of skillsets that can engender the rise of new solutions to old problems. Having accessed a wide range of research studies across many disciplines, I can state with a high level of certainty that our main weakness lies in translating research data into practice. But this is not an African problem. Bridging the theory-practice gap is a global problem. However, interdisciplinary thinking, as an approach, is more likely to democratize science and align research with market needs and the real needs of the millions of populations in Africa that continue to suffer afflictions that have been eradicated in the developed world.

Richard Oduor

Richard is a Biomedical Science & Technology graduate from Egerton University Kenya. He works and lives in Nairobi, Kenya. Richard aspires to be a multidisciplinary thinker and pursues threads from different disciplines in a bid to link them into one huge overarching framework of everything. He is also a poet and a budding short story writer/novelist. Richard also runs a blog called The Grand Debate.

The Commentary was first published in Write Paragraphs for the World Science Day for Peace and Development Commemoration.

The Clash between Darwinism and Creationism: 1859 to present

In this posting, I’ll talk about the American response to Darwinism and the continuing clash between Darwinism and Creationism in North American schools; 1859-1900 and later developments. Such an examination will show how the same arguments have been adopted by scholars, theologians, and churches the world over.

Fundamentalist religious groups have never accepted the uneasy relationship that exists between religious institutions and the theories of evolution and natural selection in the Western world. In America, those who believe in the Judeo-Christian accounts of the creation of the world as outlined in the book of Genesis have for centuries acted as political pressure groups to eliminate the teaching of Darwinism in schools by imposing their beliefs on public education (Strickberger 2005).

Origin of Species.Because Charles Darwin published “The Origin of the Species” in 1859 when America was on the eve of the civil war, serious opposition to the work began in the 1870s in the post war period. Initial rumblings began to emanate that science was becoming a threat to religion. However, due to the presence of an imminent threat of biblical criticism, the Protestants failed to perceive the details of Charles Darwin’s study hence causing delay in their response. In 1873, during the international meeting of the Evangelical Alliance, the question of evolution was finally voiced. Charles Hodge; a Presbyterian theologian from Princeton took the challenge and allayed fears of the impact of evolution and natural selection by saying that these were not new concepts, the only new concept was Darwin’s own version of the two concepts.

By proposing a design that nature was controlled by chance, he concluded that Darwinism was atheism. After this initial declaration by Hodge, Borden P Browne who was a professor of philosophy in Boston University characteristically interpreted Darwinism as being expressive of; “Life without meaning; death without meaning; and the universe without meaning. A race tortured to no purpose, and no hope but annihilation. The dead only blesses; living standing like beasts at bay, and shrieking half in defiance and half in fright” (Pyne 1996, p.12)

For Americans, the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man only intensified the allegation that science continued to attack faith. By disregarding the underlying belief that humanity was a semi divine creation and that the universe was expressly designed for the benefit of mankind, the evolution theory and the schemes of natural selection posited that just like all the other animals, man too was involved in the struggle of existence. Theologians and religious institutions were expressly against the fact that the natural selection debased man to the level of other animals by denying human beings the unique qualities of the mind, intelligence and the soul.

Darwinism created doubts on three fundamental components that had maintained belief in religion for centuries. It shattered the belief in the presence of any design and purpose, the belief that there existed a Creator or a Designer of the universe, and lastly in the belief on the presence of the human soul. The shaking of the later belief consequently created pertinent questions on the existence of life after death-a belief that had been held belief in religion for centuries.

Not even the educated public could afford to be less attuned to the ramifications of the evolutionary theory and natural selection that had created confusion and controversy among philosophers, theologians and scientists. Some were driven to suicidal thoughts. A case in point is the wife of Historian Henry Adams; Marion Hooper Adams who after the loss of her father was engulfed in depression leading to her committing suicide due to depression and doubts on the existence of immortality after death (Pyne1996. p. 13). Her death was attributed to the controversy of the evolution theory as her husband; Henry Adams had uncannily predicted her religious crisis. Marion could not succeed in reconciling her beliefs in religion and the scientific evidences of natural selection.

The 19th century also saw the rise of American geology but its development was affected by serious controversies that were both theological and scientific. Just towards the end of the 18th century clashes over the origins of the earth had began to be felt in the intellectual circles. Catastrophists perceived Creationism as outlined in the book of Genesis as the only logical explanation to the perfection of nature. The “uniformitarians” were against this explanation as literally presented in the Bible. Instead they postulated that the formation of the earth resulted from uniform and continuous courses working over long periods of time. These debates were transported to the periods after the beginning of Darwinism in the 19th century (Mandelker 1984).

When the ramifications of the Darwinian Theory eventually reached the majority of Americans, their reactions reached dimensions of hysteria. Everybody sensed that with his study, Darwin had deliberately and effectively destroyed the fundamentals of religion. Earlier on through the works of Paley and other historians of his kind, the world had been made to believe that though miraculous and mysterious natural processes, God had directly created new species. From the geological records, these geologists and naturalists had almost completely convinced humanity that the earth as it existed was the product of a grand cosmic design implying that nature was reflective of the Divine Mind and Purpose (Pyne1996).

However, as the years trudged on to the lure of positivist science, new converts were being acquired to be practitioners of this novel empiricism. In essence, a new divide of belief was created. People had to either choose the orthodox view of creationism if it suited their understanding of existence or alternatively chose the novel scientific positivism as expressed in Darwinism. The overlap between these two facets characterized the notable hostility of Darwinism in America.

While creationism was held foundationally on the presence of a purpose of nature that satisfied the belief that the world and humanity moved towards a predetermined end, the theories of evolution and natural selection described the movement of nature to be marked with random and purposeless variations. Even though Darwin himself was persuaded that nature was governed by natural law as opposed to miracle, catastrophe, or the caprice of a Creator, he maintained that through these chance variations and adaptations in nature evolution proceeded along a probable evolutionary chain. In his journey to study the species in South America (1831-1836) on the Beagle, he had observed and recorded several mismatches between species and the environments they inhabited. This led to the postulation that as opposed to the creationist theory, to exist in the changing environments organisms had to espouse a wide range of adaptive mechanisms to ensure their survival.

The liberal Protestants in America were especially more loathsome of Darwinism, as Darwin insisted on delineating the evolutionary process which implied that nature and the existence of humanity was laid waste in the brutal struggle for existence. They could not fathom that the postulations of the superfecundity and plenitude of nature, miscegenation, mutation, ugliness and randomness were the basis upon which natural laws operated. The mere fact that natural selection as Darwin had explained led to the extinctions of some species created a religious and philosophical ferment of great magnitude.

Ten years after the publication of the “Origin of Species,” and the rise of the anti-Darwinism movement which is attributed to Protestantism, Herbert Spencer developed a philosophy of science with the intention of allaying the controversies between religion and science that Darwinism had created. In his publication, the “System of Synthetic Philosophy”, Spencer expounded on the theories of evolution which had specifically been limited to biology, linguistics, fossil life, education, political history, architecture, psychological phenomena, child rearing, and rights of women, manners, morals, fine arts and in any other discipline in which the theory of evolution could be applied. Even though Charles Darwin publicly praised Spencer as “the great expounder of the principle of Evolution”, the two works not only differed in methodology but were also derived from different schools of thought (Pyne 1996; Numbers & Stenhouse 2001).

The “System of Synthetic Philosophy” was especially instrumental in accommodating Darwinism in religion because he attempted to explain that religious coherence as it existed in those ages was buttressed by the authority of truth derived from science. His intention can be said to have been the creation of a new form of science that incorporated both the scientific truths and religious beliefs into a form of natural religion that would replace the orthodox Christianity. If such an intention is understood to be one driven by arrogance, then it best describes the evangelical zeal he set in the interpretation of the evolutionary theory and its subsequent incorporation into the perfectibility of human life in his book, the “System of Synthetic Philosophy”. However, even though his work was instrumental it never vanquished the hostilities between science and religion.

As the ramifications of Darwinism continued to create an upheaval in religious circles, the Old Protestantism order which had its basis on the interrelationship of science, faith, the Bible, civilization and morality began to crumble. In 1869, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. offered a prediction of the catastrophe that was impending. He predicted that the collapse of the interrelationship would not be dramatic. He also intoned that the many vested interests of churches were rooted in evangelical idolatry and bibliolatry. For these reasons churches could not be expected to accept the implications of the novel views and explanations of the existence of man and the universe as the Bible could not challenge the scientific standards (Marsden 2006). The truth of the matter was that the creation evidence as detailed in the Hebrew books could not just be taken at face value as factual evidence of the creation of the world by a Supernatural deity.

By the 1970s so many evangelicals believed in the seriousness of the threat of Darwinism to religion but they did not share the analytic conclusions that Holmes had so aptly predicted. W.A Stearns attributed the current threats to Christianity as being no more than a continuation of the assaults that Christianity has been enduring (Mardsen 2006, 17). Other leaders reiterated that just as the skepticism, deism and atheism had been defeated in the Enlightenment, Christianity will be victorious again. While positing that never since Christianity has been strong as it was then, Stearns added that they will work together under the Evangelical Alliance to lift all people to achieve victory with the afflictions of modern rationalism, skepticism, the Papacy or any other false system.

These were the opinions that characterized fundamentalism. As an organized movement, it had two major forms. One front operated within the denominations where seminarians and ministers purged modernists and liberals with the sole intention of saving the orthodoxy. This form of fundamentalism cantered mainly in North America. The second form of fundamentalism was more of a popular crusade that was directed not only towards modernist and liberal heresies but also against Darwinism and the deteriorating moral trends in the society. While former mainly involved seminarians and conservative ministers, the latter was advanced by less scholarly or less academic preachers. These two forms of fundamentalism were joined into a form of loose coalition as they were working against a common enemy: Darwinism.

At the end of the 19th century it seemed that religious leaders had started becoming in terms with the evolutionary theories, but still approximately half of the population in the United States still denied the scientific truths postulated by the Darwin theories. This proportion which rejects Darwinism in its entirety believes that human beings are a product of a Supernatural creation that happened at some time in the history of the universe.

With regard to the uniqueness of the political and constitutional history of the United States, and the long history of a religious culture the creationism movement became more popular hence characterizing the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. It should be understood that the majority of the European settlers who came to North America during the 17th and the 18th centuries were settlers who were fleeing from religious prosecution from their mother countries (Dixon 2009).

Many of these settlers were non conformist Protestants who had adopted the belief in a personal relationship with God and the study of the Bible. They were Puritans, Quakers, Congregationalists, Baptists and Methodists. Since the settlers constituted a majority of the United States population at that time, these distinct religious groupings became the characteristics of the religious culture in the United States of America. Thus, due to the multiplicity of churches, there arose a need to separate the church from the state so as to prevent any favouritism of the any of the church groupings by the state. This spirit was aptly expressed when the First Amendment explicitly prevented the Congress from ever establishing any form of national religion. Despite this constitutional provision, other states still maintained contact with established churches but these were to soon die off leading to the full separation of the church and the state (Dixon 2009).

To exercise the same spirit of the separation of the church and the state, statutes were enacted to prevent other established religions from imposing their own version of Christianity on others. This led to the abolition of religious instruction in public schools. The passing of religious beliefs onto the younger generation was left to be done at home or in the Sunday school. This provision that completely eliminated religion in schools was what ushered in the clash between Creationism and Darwinism as the 20th century drew to a close.

The first instance of the clash with regard to the education occurred in 1925, when Dayton; a small town in Tennessee banned the teaching of Darwin’s evolution theories in public schools within their locality (Dixon 2009). The end of the sensational debates led to the elimination of the evolution theories from the science curriculum of most schools throughout the United States and for the duration between 1925 to the 1960s, the clash between Darwinism and Creationism subsided as they had both been eliminated from instruction curricula of public schools.

The elimination of such important scientific principles in the education curricula did not present any serious threats to the scientific development of the United States until the surprise success of Sputnik mission; a Russian space program which was launched in 1957. For fear that America was lagging behind in scientific development, a national panic arose that the scientific standards in American schools were low. The abolition of Darwinism in schools could no longer be tolerated. Acting against the wishes of many American parents who viewed Darwinism as the causative agent for the social ills in the society, the courts re-introduced the learning of the evolutionary theories in American public schools.

The 1960s to the 1970s led to the rise of the theories of the Intelligent Design. However, the religious fundamentalists especially those in North America were also determined to establish a way by which they could also be enshrined in the curricula. These developments led to the concepts of Intelligent Design and Scientific Creationism. There were those who advocated for the teaching of both evolution science, the creation science in addition to another alternative such as catastrophism so as to create a balance between the violently conflicting theories of Creationism and Darwinism.

Through the idea of an Intelligent Design, postulated by a biochemist Michael Behe and a lawyer Phillip Johnson, a new way through which the concept of God could be taken back to the classrooms. However, the teaching of the Intelligent Design in American classrooms did not see the day as judges ruled that it had been religiously motivated and therefore a breach of the First Amendment in 2005(Dixon 2009; Numbers 2006).

The clash between Darwinism and Creationism in America was watched with amused detachment or in some instances notions of superiority by the British as they could not understand that there still existed some culturally backward communities in America that prevented children from garnering knowledge on the theories of Darwinism. Given that their era of controversy had long ended, they could not understand that unlike in Britain, the United States had far different historical differences among its population. The presence of interdenominational rivalry that existed in the United States did not exist in England during the time of the evolutionary controversy. The supremacy of the Church of England and the existence of a Parliament with a long tradition helped settle down the controversies that raged after the publication of the “Origin of the Species” and the “Descent of Man”. Moreover the Fundamentalist Christian movement that took off in the United States in the World War I period did not take off in Britain (Dixon 2009).

In his analysis of the developments of the clash between Darwinism and Creationism or rather the Intelligent Design, Yeats observes that just like any other American he does not understand why naturalism should exercise monopoly in North American classrooms. He reiterates that individuals who espouse Darwinism are using the courts to sustain the principles of evolution and natural selection in public schools. He could not understand why an issue about the origin of existence could only be explained by Darwinism when there were a multitude of other options that could be taught in the public schools. However, given the motivations behind the intelligent design, a bad case was presented to the judicial system and from that bad case emanated a bad decision. By trying to use scientific data to prove that the theory of Intelligent Design was at par with Darwinism hence losing the case before a court under modern jurisprudence with judges who underwent secular training.

Therefore, while religious fundamentalists may attempt to negotiate for a dualistic approach in the education system, they have to understand that the attorneys as well as the system of training existing in North America is steeped in Naturalistic philosophy. Thus, unless the religious fundamentalists propagate the understanding that Darwinism is a religious tenet as in secular naturalism and that the education system as well as the public school’s science educators is nothing but the missionaries of the religion, any attempt to introduce any other theoretical understanding of the origin of man and the universe will be viewed as being religiously motivated. However, some argue that much as Darwinism can escape the reference of being classified as a religion, what matters is the element of faith. So long as students are taught to have faith in Darwinism as being the conclusive explanation of the origin of man, then it is religion and it should not be taught in public schools in North America.

In North America, the continuing conflicts between supporters of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection on one hand and the supporters of the creationist theories on the other are just the 21st century’s skirmishes that have characterized the struggles between science and religion. Creationism as a theory and its pseudo-scientific offspring; the theory of Intelligent Design are products of the historical, cultural and religious characteristics of the population in North America.

So long as these underlying characteristics of the population persist, there is limited evidence that a time may come in the near future where the supremacy of Darwinism in the public school system will be challenged with creationist theories like the Intelligent design or any other theory, so long as such a theory is deemed to have originated from religious motivation. Currently, with the observable lack of interest in the theories of Creationism by current President of the United States of America; President Barack Obama coupled to the support of Darwinism in schools by the Supreme Court as well as the overriding interpretation of the First Amendment, it is no surprise that religiously motivated anti-Darwinism in North America will continue to be kept out of American classrooms.

There is very little, when one judges the history of these developments, to suggest that Darwinism will not continue to be part of the science syllabus in countries with secular systems of governance. Creationism, held afloat by nothing but belief, will also be taught in many countries but it will never strangle Darwinism as far as understanding natural biological phenomena is concerned. There are mountains of evidence to that end, mountains that cannot simply be washed away.


Richard M. Oduor/Richie Maccs, Nairobi

Mr. Oduor is a writer, poet and critic. He did Biomedical Science and Technology (Bsc. Hons) and in line to pursue a Masters in Strategic Management. He is a founding Partner of a young company; Expert Research & Management Consultants and Founding Member at the Center for Intervention Against Alcohol (CIAADA). His prose and poetry have appeared in print and online journals and anthologies and the first poetry collection is due for publication. He has freelanced and copywrited for various local and international private research entities.




Darwinism, Religion and the Idea of God

The Greatest of all naturalists

Charles Darwin: The Greatest of all naturalists

When the “Origin of Species” appeared on November 24, 1859, a new intellectual impulse was generated and just as a novel generative idea defines a philosophical epoch, an intellectual movement that would define and engulf a whole generation began. While it can be generally posited that Darwinism in itself was but a terminus of the linkages in intellectual development in that century, it is much more preferable if we posit that Darwin inaugurated the reflex of the universal spirit of natural science.

While the “Descent of Man” included the species Homo sapiens as a natural consequence of the evolution theory, thus explaining its existence as nothing but a natural development from lower animal life forms; which was a rather natural progression of Darwin’s doctrines of the origins of species, the turbulence that the sole assertion would create was beyond his comprehension at the release of these works. Far beyond the bounds of natural philosophy, scientific theorism, religious and ethical depths, the reactions ranged from acknowledgement and admiration, from aversion and repugnance while a select minority maintained a sober and unprejudiced judgement.

To some, Darwinism represented the flambeau that would light mankind to perceive and discover new paths of truth and attain moral and spiritual perfection. On the side, Darwinism was also viewed as an unproven hypothesis that threatened to radically transform the noblest and grandest achievements of the past centuries and thrust them into a heap of ashes. Alternatively, Darwinism was also representative of the highest level of scientific, moral and religious height that humanity had ever ascended (Schmid 2008). Thus, under these overriding circumstances it was virtually impossible for guardians of religion and moral interest as well as those respectable individuals with sacred acquisitions that man had ever been endowed with, to assume the roles of idle spectators.

It would have been better if these groups of people delayed their onslaught on Darwinism until they had attained a significant level of evidence to judge or at least waited until the controversies subsided to levels that could warrant an unprejudiced analysis. However since, Darwinism was seen as being hostile to Christianity as well as the theistic view of the universe, these agents voiced their controversy. On the other hand, extreme materialists and the sublime monists, who are nonetheless hostile to Christianity, decided to use Darwinism as a reference point for shattering all belief of the existence of a Creator and Master of the world (Schmid 2008).

Cumulatively, taken as threats to God and religion, individuals with ethical and religious acquisitions could not afford to accept a reserved position on the matter. In essence, silence would have been understood to be an inglorious retreat. Therefore, it is important to understand the position that religion took with regard to the Darwinian theories.

Charles Darwin, Darwinism and Religion: 1859-1900

To pose a highly reliable discourse on the interactions of Darwinism and religion, it is only prudent that we take a look at the scientific problem in itself before digressing to the views of Darwinism as propagated by religion. At basic, this attempt desires that we first and foremost discuss the purely scientific theories that Darwin postulated. Generally, these theories attempt to give an answer to the question: “How did the different species of organic beings on the earth originate”(Schmid 2008).

Living in the midst of an endless variety of plants, animals and human beings, man has continually striven to understand the nature of all these by observation and design of laws that are in congruence to the natural world as it existed in a given century. With the facts of reproduction partially understood and after designing explanations for the existence of the species in immeasurable epochs of the history of the earth, we are finally faced with the task of developing a believable explanation of the origin of the first species, be it a plant, an organic being or an animal.

Since no man ever had the opportunity of witnessing the origination of other species as there are enough evidential proofs asserting that when Homo sapiens finally appeared, all other organisms were in existence. In the natural history of the progression of science, there reached a time when scientists desisted from attempting to solve the question as it was deemed unprofitable and utterly insolvable. Any attempt in solving it would require the use of unjustifiable hypotheses which in themselves could not provide an appropriate answer to the whole phenomena. Having faith in religion simply rendered these investigations useless because the question had aptly and fully resolved in religion.

In religion, all species had their origins from the creative act of God. This solution for the question of the origin in species sufficed for religion because as a believer, all things including the universe itself, was the work of God. Since religion is grounded on belief and as such cannot be taken as being indifferent or antagonistic to the scientific impulse behind investigations into the origin of the species, Darwinian evolution theories had a profound impact on religious belief. Traditionally, religion was grounded on the belief that both social and biological systems were designed by an intelligent supernatural deity.

Evolutionary theories denied that there existed a god who with a supreme purpose designed biological creatures. Since religion lies in human driven attempts to appeal to or control natural forces, which had long been incomprehensible to man but thought to be humanlike but supernatural, the concepts of God and soul arose. Both these concepts are supposedly eternal in nature and immaterial. Owing to the general insecurity of humanity and the instability of nature, religion provided the understanding that there had to be in existence a supernatural being who had the capacity to manage and control these components of the universe. It is such a propitiation that maintained deep beliefs in religions and cults. Through offerings and sacrifices, human beings sought to restore order, ameliorate guilt and provide benefits by appealing to the divine creator (Strickberger 2005).

Before Darwin, Galileo and Copernicus had challenged the notion of a powerful deity as the controlling force behind the whole universe. In their view, the idea of God only served as an explanation of the initial creation but not of the incessant manipulation of the solar system. However, their explanations could not cause such religious turbulence as Darwinism would cause. Darwinism posed that biological relationships; inclusive of the origin of man as well as that of all other species in the universe could only be explained through natural selection in the complete absence of a controlling or managing God.

At the onset of Darwinism a majority felt that the randomness and uncertainty of the evolutionary theories had almost completely replaced the existence of a deity with conscious, purposeful and human like characteristics. The postulation that evolution was a historical process and that species were not created spontaneously but rather formed via a succession of selective events in the past was a direct contradiction to the religious beliefs which maintained the understanding that there could not exist any form of biological design or otherwise without the existence of  Grand Designer.

With regard to evolution, interactions between different species and their environment results in the selection of successful traits that are further enhanced by selective events. Therefore, environmental adaptation has the capacity to continuously modify structures and organs over long periods of time, and complexities that had initially been unlikely singular spontaneous events progress to become evolutionary probable events. Even though the variability on which selection is dependent on may at times be random, adaptations are not because natural selection only chooses and perfects that which is adaptive (Strickberger 2005). With natural selection, the designs and purpose of a supernatural deity are not necessary.

Everybody who is acquainted with the hostility of the reviews, treatises and sermons just after the works, “The Origin of the Species” and the “Descent of Man” were released will understand that at the time Charles Darwin was perceived as a wicked infidel who had completely abandoned God as the Creator of the universe, a man who had completely undermined the authority of the Scriptures, a man who degraded human beings to the same levels as beasts and lastly as a man who had abandoned the universe under the control of chance. For centuries and centuries men had comfortably adopted the belief that God was the creator and that Nature as it existed was but an evidence of God’s purpose and design.

These men could not understand nor even tolerate that things could just grow without being products of the divine craftsman nor that the exquisite adaptations of organs to the environment was not a divine design but due to natural selection of variabilities that simply chanced to be favourable to the organism at a specific time. More serious was the disbelief that man, animals, vegetable or any form of inorganic nature had the same pithecoid ancestry.

Darwin’s Reaction to the Upheaval

These upheavals were strange to Darwin who could not simply understand what the fuss was all about. In fact, he regarded these hostilities with mild irritation and innocent surprise. In response Darwin wrote to Asa Gray in May 22, 1860 that, “With respect to the theological view of the question, this is always painful to me. I am bewildered. I had no intention to write atheistically” (Banton 11). To a Dutch correspondent, Darwin wrote in 1873, that since it is the impossibility of conceiving the universe with the help of our conscious selves that drives man to believe in the existence of God, he concludes that it is safe to surmise that the whole subject of the existence is beyond the scope of the intellect of man, but man has to do his duty. All through these attacks Charles Darwin maintained that he had a belief in a God.

While answering an earnest student who sought to know his opinions on religion, Darwin reiterated that he considered the theory of Evolution to be in compatibility with the belief in a God. In the same note to the German student, Darwin added that it should always be understood that different individuals had different opinions on what is generally referred to as God. On the insistence of the student who was like many other not convinced with his answers, he wrote that Science had nothing, absolutely to do with Christ (in reference to attacks from Christianity)(p, 12). In the same year while writing to J. Fordyce, he exhibited the typical Victorian individualism by saying that, “What my own views may be is a question of no consequence to anyone but myself”.

Such was the passion of Darwin for natural history that he could not fully understand that he had shattered the simple faith of belief in a Creator; a belief that had been held by thousands and thousands over the centuries. Having grown old and not the best of health, and at the same time possessed by his own pursuits he could not spare time for irresolvable questions. To shatter accusations that he was an atheist, he said that even in the most extreme circumstances he had never been an atheist as to deny the existence of God. In fact what could appropriately describe his state of mind was being as agnostic.

To get a more in depth understanding on what drove Darwin’s views on religion, lets take a look at Christianity as and its influence on his growth and development an a very tender age. Religion, science and Charles Darwin interacted strongly during the early years of the naturalist’s life. Before, Darwin released his works, science and religion, especially Christianity had maintained a form of a harmonious relationship. During the early 19th century and even before that, many naturalists of repute were clergymen who studied nature as an exposition and appreciation of the designs of the Creator. Students of the day depended on theological works by William Paley (1743-1806) that attributed the natural exquisite designs to the existence of the Grand Designer: God.

These naturalists also explained the perfect adaptation to the environment to the same grand designing. Based on these early exhibitions of intellectual development, it was therefore not a surprise that Dr Robert Waring Darwin(1766-1848) contemplated the clergy as being the most appropriate career for his son even though the young Charles Darwin had found medicine while at the University of Edinburgh to be distinctly uncongenial (Dupree 1986). During Charles years on the Beagle, he shared a cabin with Captain Robert Fitzroy; an intensely Orthodox man. Together they wrote an article defending the British missionaries in New Zealand and Tahiti (Dupree 1986).

Thus, Darwin as a person and Darwinism as a set of scientific theories both originated from the Christian culture. In fact the scientific community of that time profoundly depended on Christianity as a direct economic support and as a rationale for the social usefulness of science. It is also important to remind ourselves that when Charles Darwin went to Cambridge it was for the idea of being ordained as he had deeply studied and admired Paley. On board the Beagle, Darwin quoted the Bible as an authority on morality, a belief that was laughed by many officers on board the Beagle. In fact some German phrenologists once described him as possessing a “bump of reverence developed enough for ten priests” (Banton 13). On the basis of these facts it is impossible to accept the belief that his views expressed in the Origin of the Species had any intention of assaulting religion.

In the next posting I will talk about the American response to Darwinism and 1859-1900, and later developments in the 21st century, especially with regard to the war between Darwinism and Creationism in American Schools because these perspectives define strands of thought the world over.


Richard M. Oduor/Richie Maccs, Nairobi

Mr. Oduor is a writer, poet and critic. He did Biomedical Science and Technology (Bsc. Hons) and in line to pursue a Masters in Strategic Management. He is a founding Partner of a young company; Expert Research & Management Consultants and Founding Member at the Center for Intervention Against Alcohol (CIAADA). His prose and poetry have appeared in print and online journals and anthologies and the first poetry collection is due for publication. He has freelanced and copywrited for various local and international private research entities.


Banton, M. Darwinism and the Study of Society: a centenary symposium. Routledge Press: New York.

Dixon, T. (2009). America’s Difficulty with Darwin. History Today. February 2009. Volume: 59 Issue: 2, p. 22-28.

Dupree, A. H. (1986). Christianity and the Scientific Community in the Age of the Darwin. In, God and nature: historical essays on the encounter between Christianity and science; David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers. University of California Press.

Mandelker, I. L (1984). Religion, Society, and Utopia in Nineteenth-century America.  University of Massachusetts Press, 90

Marsden, G. M. (2002). Fundamentalism and American culture. Oxford University Press US, 10-22

Numbers L. (2006). The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design, Expanded Edition. Harvard University Press.

Numbers, R. I., & Stenhouse, J. (2001). Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race,  Religion, and Gender. Cambridge University Press.

Pyne, K. (2006). “The American Response to Darwinism”. In, Art and the Higher Life: Painting and Evolutionary Thought in Late Nineteenth-Century America. University of Texas Press.

Schmid, R. (2008). The Theories of Darwin and Their Relation to Philosophy Religion and Morality. BiblioBazaar, LLC.

Strickberger, M. W. (2005).  Evolution. 3rd Edition. Jones & Bartlett Publishers, p.  63-71

Yeats, J. L. (Dec 22, 2005). First-Person: Call Darwinism What It Is-A Religion.   http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=22351